Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Monday, October 6, 2008

Goodbye Delta, Hello Big City

This post is dedicated to my grandparents, pictured below. They were among the many survivors of life in the Mississippi Delta during the Great Depression in Mississippi.

Clark and Lelia Branch, circa 1945 In 1955, my life, along with the lives of my grandparents, parents, and two siblings would change forever. It was the year they "sold the family farm." In July of that year, we left the only home I could remember and moved to the big city, at least it was a big city to a nine-year old child born on a farm in the Mississippi Delta. We had always lived with my grandparents, or my grandparents lived with my parents. Which of these two situations was true was not really important to me as a child, and since my father was an only child, it seemed logical to me at the time.

As I look back on my parents and my grandparents living arrangement, my parents must have moved into my grandparent's house in the Mississippi Delta the year that I was born. They had married in Mississippi but had lived out-of-state during the first few months of their marriage. Although I was too young to remember specific details about any division of household duties, it is likely that my mother was not the "mistress of her own domain" or the "only cook in the kitchen" until I was in sixth grade, when my grandparents moved into a different house. For the first time since late in the year they were married, my parents were alone in their own home with only their children.

The move from the farm to the "big city" was precipitated by my grandfather's age and health, along with the simple fact that farming was not making the kind of living that it once had. My grandfather raised cotton in the Mississippi Delta, beginning after his move from Attala County in the depression years and continuing until the move to the city in 1955. Cotton was "king," and the entire Delta economy around 1950 revolved around planting, "hoeing" or "chopping" and the fall "picking." We could see the cotton gin in the distance from our yard.

My grandfather also raised soybeans that he sold to the local farmers' coop and corn and sugar cane. The corn was taken to the gristmill for milling into cornmeal, and the sugar cane was used for making syrup. We also had a number of animals that were raised for milk and butter and for meat. And the large vegetable garden and small fruit orchard cared for by my mother and grandmother produced enough fresh vegetables, fruits, and potatoes for our family all year. My mother became a "canning" expert. This farm had enabled my grandparents to make it through the depression years.

The fact that my father did not become a farmer, but opted for a job in a small town nearby, allowed our family to live modestly, but comfortably, in the post World War II years. Their lifestyle was dramatically improved from the depression years my grandparents saw as a young married couple raising a child and what my parents experienced as children growing up during that time in Mississippi. My father's job "in town" enabled our family to have some of the comfort items they did not have during the depression years, including a newly remodeled house with electricity and running water, along with a new car, and later one of the first television sets.

My father's job move from the small town near where we lived to the big city was actually the final decision maker to leave the Delta in 1955. Farm life for my grandparents, as well as my parents, quickly became a thing of the past, leaving behind memories of some difficult years, but taking with them pleasant memories of family and longtime business and personal friendships.

An era had come to an end, and all our lives, particularly the lives of my grandparents, would never be the same.

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